“The best component of a good tactical officer is his mind and the ability to process information and do it with brevity when it’s necessary and also a good mixture of compassion and empathy, reverence for life, summarized James Veenstra, who retired from the Los Angeles Police Department after serving 27 years, 20 of those assigned to the SWAT team.
Veenstra and 15 LAPD members of the Los Angeles Police Department SWAT Team were honored as “Top Cops” at the National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO) annual award ceremony in 2009, for responding to a call at a residence where a male advised he had just killed his father and two brothers. After using a flash bang distraction device, two officers entered the dimly lit residence and after turning the corner on a half wall entry, were immediately hit by semiautomatic gunfire.
The two officers, Veenstra and Randall Simmons were pulled from the house while the suspect retreated to a rear bedroom. SWAT team snipers positioned on adjacent rooftops.
Flashbangs were tossed into the room where the suspect was hiding, causing a fire and the suspect to run toward the door threatening officers with his weapon.
Officers fired and struck the suspect. He was pulled from the burning building and pronounced dead.
Officer Randall Simmons tragically died at the scene. Officer Veenstra was struck in the face and survived his injuries.
“Randy Simmons’s fatality is the first one in 40-plus years in an action where he was murdered by a suspect that we were trying to take into custody. That speaks volumes to where the training had been in four decades prior to…it doesn’t preclude the fact that each and every time you walk through the door, there’s always a percentage that it may not go your way that day, and that’s what happened, said Veenstra.”
LAPD SWAT created the tactical model and trained police departments across the country and world. The department developed these crisis procedures after SWAT’s experience handling a four-hour shootout with the Black Panthers in 1969, a fiery battle against the Symbionese Liberation Army in 1974 and a gunfight with machine-gun-toting bank robbers in North Hollywood in 1997.
“The true heroes are those, first officers that knew the danger inside of the suspect that was armed, that was willing to shoot at officers. They made entry to save other people’s lives; they’re the real heroes, said Sgt. Chuck Buttitta.